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Random Access
Nam June Paik, United States
Random Access, 1963
Photo Manfred Montwé
Selected by: Jon Ippolito
Random Access was the first artist's Web browser. Of course, Paik built Random Access two decades before TCP/IP and three decades before Mosaic–but then Paik has made a career of being ahead of his time. He co-developed the first video synthesizer in 1970, coined the term electronic superhighway in 1976, and veejayed a live global videocast in 1984, which he did the old-fashioned way via satellite. (Not to mention that anyone who has ever seen one of his videotapes knows where MTV got the idea of rapid-fire video editing.) In 1963 the closest thing to creating art for the Web was writing electronic music for 1/4-inch magnetic tape. The Korean-born Paik had studied 20th-century music in Japan and Germany, but it was a revelatory meeting with American composer John Cage in 1958 that opened his mind to the possibilities of combining music, performance, and electronics. For his first solo show, at a gallery in Wuppertal, Germany, Paik tacked fifty-odd strips of prerecorded audiotape to the wall and invited visitors to run a handheld playback head wired to speakers along the strips at whatever speed or direction they desired. Unlike some of todays closed formats like Java or Flash, Random Access was no black box; on the contrary, Paik exposed the guts of a tape player to his viewers, offering a hands-on feeling (quite literally) for how audio technology worked and what it was capable of. While even the most advanced reel-to-reel player of the day presumed the listener would want to hear a piece of music from beginning to end, Random Access showed that a linear medium could be sliced up and scattered across a spatial expanse.
other artworks: Magnet TV
Nam June Paik